The 2016 “Asian Soul · Global Vision” China Design Forum Held in Shanghai


Colin Seah, keynote speaker of the 2016 China Design Forum (CDF)

The 2016 China Design Forum, hosted by C Foundation of Shenzhen and solely supported by Lafedbo Furniture, was successfully held in Shanghai on June 10th and 11th. The event was attended by the ten Directors of C Foundation, namely Qiu Deguang, Lin Xueming, Liang Jinghua, Steve Leung, Liang Jianguo, Chen Yaoguang, Jiang Feng, Dai Kun, Sun Jianhua and Ju Bin, as well as nearly 100 experts, scholars, corporate executives, well-known designers and friends from the media from Chinese and foreign design communities. Together they discussed the status quo, development and future of design along the theme of “Asian Soul · Global Vision”.

Animated roundtable discussions involving scores of participants

On the afternoon of June 10th, participants invited to roundtable discussions gathered in 1933 Shanghai and had vibrant discussions on hot topics related to Chinese design. The themes for the five roundtable discussions were “Design + Capital + Internet”, “Contemporaneity of design”, “Creative industries and future of enterprises”, “Big or small, does it matter”, and “Charm of orient in design”. Each roundtable discussion had a chairperson and was joined by two C Foundation Directors and around a dozen participants. They all had animated and in-depth discussions centering around these topics to their heart’s content in a lively atmosphere.

The next morning, the five roundtable chairpersons presented a summary of views at the main forum. Insightful views expressed on the diverse topics were very enlightening and deeply stirred the audience, leaving them wanting more even when the summary was over. The number of roundtables was reduced from 10 last year to 5 this year, thus the discussions could be more focused and go deeper. To facilitate the dissemination of discussion outcomes, the host, starting from this year, would meticulously sort out roundtable discussions of the year and publish them as a white paper.

Presentations of public-welfare projects

The interim report on public-welfare projects is an important item for every China Design Forum. At the main forum on the morning of June 11th, C Foundation Director Lin Xueming presented to the guests and audience performance and outcomes of major public-welfare projects that C Foundation had operated over the past 20 months since its founding. On behalf of C Foundation, he extended sincere gratitude to the 8 strategic partners of C Foundation, namely Easy Home, Red Star Macalline, Nature Home, Air Land home, TATA wooden doors, AUPU, Tucson and DerLook, as well as public-welfare partners including enterprises financing non-profit projects, designer volunteers and media outlets. A medal-awarding ceremony was held in appreciation of the selfless contributions by experts and consultants. The main forum event of 2016 was co-moderated by C Foundation Directors Sun Jianhua and Ju Bin as well as Liu Yu’an.


2016 interim report on public-welfare projects by C Foundation Director Lin Xueming

Keynote speeches by Chinese and foreign speakers from different fields

At every China Design Forum, keynote speakers are always the focal point. At the main forum on the 11th, the host C Foundation invited three pioneering designers from different countries, of different age and working in different disciplines, namely Liu Xiaokang, partner of KL&K Design, Colin Seah, founder and director of design of Ministry of Design (MOD), and Miao Ran, founder of apparel brand MIAORAN; they delivered wonderful speeches from different angles and of different style that were greeted with applauses from the audience. After speeches, the speakers also had brilliant interactions with the audience.

Liu Xiaokang, a Hong Kong-based designer, has rich experience in graphic design and always evokes philosophical thinking. He can illustrate the art of design with a chair alone. In the keynote speech session “playing with chairs”, Liu Xiaokang deftly arranged for the chairs in different ways to illustrate different ideas, for example, the relationship between chair and man, and the subtle and peculiar relationship between people, creating with chairs a philosophically oriented design space. Colin Seah, one representative of young and middle-aged designers in Asia, is focused on architectural and interior design. He delivered a keynote speech “Question, Disturb and Redefine” in which he shared his innovative design approaches, showing the audience more possibilities in design.

The post-85 designer Miao Ran, born in mainland China and now based in Milan, has a strong global awareness when it comes to apparel and fashion design. In his speech “Needle & Thread · Podium”, he used his own experience and stories as examples to illustrate his innovative thinking and what he has learned and experienced regarding fashion design, designers, the relationship between apparel and man, and design education etc.

These Asian designers take excellent contemporary designs in Asia to the rest of the world and also proactively take in the essence of the design cultures worldwide, promoting the positive exchange between and blend of oriental and occidental design. Such an approach of exploring the future path of design via comparison and reflection is the best example of the theme of this year’s China Design Forum, “Asian Soul · Global Vision”.

Appendix: Summary of views expressed in roundtable forums

Roundtable 1: Design + Capital + Internet

Chairperson: Fan Ling

Directors: Qiu Deguang and Ju Bin

Participants: Wang Tie, Qu Guangci, Lv Shaocang, Xie Haitao, Miao Ran, Chen Shumin, Zhao Hegang, Zhao Jianying and Lin Da

Lead-in: The relationship between design, Internet and capital no longer needs to be discussed; rather, what needs to be discussed is the consequence arising from the close-knit web of the three communities; of the Silicon Valley unicorns most favored by investors, 21% have a designer co-founder; that design can produce commercial success has not been proven yet, but the trend is already in the making in both China and the US. However, the recent Wei Zexi incident prompted us to reflect on the humanistic value of design. As science and technology and capital gain greater momentum, it becomes all the more necessary for us to tap into a range of fundamental humanistic values such as kindness, trust and fairness. Maybe that is where the biggest value of design lies in the face of Internet and capital: to call forth humanistic care and touch people’s heart.

Views expressed:

1. Bottomline: What is the bottom line most worthy safeguarding, whether in the face of artificial intelligence, Internet or capital?

2. Upper limit: To what degree will the combination of Internet and capital amplify design? Which part of design should be amplified as much as possible?

3. Dilemma: Is there a fixed design market? Or is the value of design the sum of increments in all the market?

4. Success: How to define the success of design, by the measure of commerce, society, or people? Are there successful cases of combining design, Internet and capital other than that of Airbnb?

5. Failure: Are there failures? Why do failures occur? Failures in this context refer to not only commercial failures but also design failures defined as compromise of design values? We should learn from failures.

6. Leaders: When design partners with Internet and capital, it involves confrontation, cooperation and trade-offs on a larger platform, in this case, can designers act as leaders? Can they play a bigger role from commercial, social, political and financial perspectives?

7. Education: What are we teaching, what do we need to teach? What does it take to be “fearless” of money and “fearless” of technologies?


Views sharing by Fan Ling, chairperson of the first roundtable

Roundtable 2: Contemporaneity of design

Chairperson: Su Dan

Directors: Lin Xueming and Sun Jianhua

Participants: Hang Jian, Zhao Jian, Tong Lan, Han Wangxi, Dai Bei, Ma Haijin, Sun Xinxi, Lv Yongzhong, Ben Wu, Shen Lei and Pan Xiangdong

Lead-in: What is contemporary design? It is absolutely not a category of design characterized by time, but a type of design with its core values, historical significance and characteristic forms. On the ladder of time, the future is always built upon the past, and the present might be the moment the contemporary is born, or the moment of fertilization. In this sense, criticizing and inheriting the past is how contemporary design is born, just like lovemaking of the humankind for the purpose of reproduction is the perfect blend of violence and caress, and of fight and compromise. Therefore, I think contemporary design also exists in the future and the present harbors our imagination of and action towards the future.

Views expressed:

1. Contemporaneity is not only about the present but also implies inference about and prediction of the future;

2. Thinking and practices caused by the currently prevalent anxiety;

3. Subject of the society has changed and people start to develop stronger self-awareness as an individual on a large scale;

4. In the globalized context, the design community has shifted the focus of their thinking and practices towards the pursuit of universal value to mankind and to people;

5. Contemporaneity involves redefining design, going deeper and wider, and exploring new possibilities;

6. The trend concerning how forms of contemporary design evolve and change.


View sharing by Su Dan, chairperson of the second roundtable

Roundtable 3: Future of creative industries and enterprises

Chairperson: Ge Yaxi

Directors: Liang Jinghua and Dai Kun

Participants: Yu Qiang, Xiao Aibin, He Zongxian, Gary Zeng (Zeng Jianlong), Che Jianfang, Wu Xingjie, Wu Wei, She Xuebin, Du Fangjie, Hu Yanli and Li Daode

Lead-in: Nowadays, Chinese enterprises value originality and power of branding for development, hoping that their branding can effectively help them increase market share and popularity, quickly boost product performance and amplify chain effect. In light of this, creative industries should think about how to work with products, apply creativity to make products more original and unique, adding to the appeal of their selling points. As for whether this is the way forward, we need to discuss the specific partnership model between the two that will strengthen their complementarity. Another question is what enterprises should do to control the uniqueness of products to establish their corporate kingdom. Hopefully, more specific and detailed discussions on these questions can help enterprises and creative industries arrive at a positioning for the long-term future.

Views shared on the following issues:

1. The current pain points in the industry;

2. Value creations of creative industries other than design and ways to quantify them;

3. Attention should be paid to the so-called more successful models and structural relationship;

4. This is a competitive state;

5. The cooperation has just started and the precondition to cooperation is to establish rules and standards on the basis of honoring contracts. Of all the different views expressed, this one is, relatively speaking, a consensus.


View sharing by Ge Yaxi, chairperson of the third roundtable

Roundtable 4: Big or small, does it matter?

Chairperson: Shen Lidong

Directors: Steve Leung and Jiang Feng

Participants: Yang Bangsheng, Meng Jianguo, Ni Yang, Xie Yingkai, Xiao Ping, Sun Huafeng, Zhang Can, Chen Bin, Ruan Hao and Liu Tao

Lead-in: Over the past thirty years, interior design has developed from scratch and become an emerging creative design industry. Nowadays, when people talk about design enterprises, they talk about not only creativity but also management. How to manage a company well is now a difficulty facing many design enterprises. Design companies all over the world, be it large companies like Gensler and HBA or small studios composed of three to five employees, are all thriving in harmony and proceeding in their intended direction. How can large companies continue to thrive and be big and strong, and how can small firms stay small and beautiful? These issues are increasingly discussed in the design community. What kind of design companies will be needed in China in the future, large or small ones? That is the main topic to be discussed today.

Views expressed on the following issues:

1. A brief summary of all the views expressed is that big and small design enterprises have no connection from one angle but some connections from another angle. The explanation is as follows:

(1) On one hand, big and small design enterprises have “no connection” because their difference in size holds true for any industry; big and small players co-exist in any industry, and design is no exception.

(2) On the other hand, big and small design enterprises have “some connections”, specifically speaking:

They are competitors because they compete for clients in the market;

They are partners when they need each other’s expertise for partnership;

They fight for talents, which are resources they both need;

They have technical exchanges and have some common ground in corporate management.

2 The way forward is to be big and strong for big players and small and specialized for small players.

(1) The development trend is that “small players will become smaller and more specialized in their field while big players will become bigger and have a broader business scope”.

(2) To go big or small depends on owners and managers’ capabilities, their resources and personal preferences.

(3) Big players value platform building, standard formulation and R&D investment, among other tasks, and small players should value developing their personal brand and becoming more professional in the field they are specialized in.

3. Three takeaways from the forum:

(1) There is no need to pay an obsessive attention to enterprises’ difference in size because it does exist and will always exist as an inherent feature of the market;

(2) Design enterprises, big and small, should all develop the “Internet+” mindset, coordinate with each other, share resources and pursue joint development.

(3) China’s design industry needs both big players and small players to thrive, which should bring into play their respective strengths and downplay their disadvantages to develop together in harmony. Only in this way can Chinese design embark on a path of healthy and sustainable development.


View sharing by Shen Lidong, chairperson of the fourth roundtable

Roundtable 5:

Chairperson: Chen Weixin

Directors: Liang Jianguo and Chen Yaoguang

Participants: Sun Yun, Pang Xi, Meng Ye, She Wentao, Jin Jie, Zhang Fengyi, Liu Feng and Lu Yun

Lead-in: To the rest of the world, the orient has always been shrouded in an exotic mystery. Oriental countries with a long history always have their own symbol of fashion. In recent years, fashion icons and celebrities wielding significant influence in the world have gradually turned their eyes to the east. In the past two centuries, the world looked to the west; now, it looks to the east. One case in point is the theme of GET GALA 2015 (the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala), “China: Through the Looking Glass”; another example is the various oriental elements on display in Milan Design Week in recent years. Such cases all speak to the fact that oriental fashion is making greater waves on the global stage. Oriental elements, whether in economy or culture, design or art, stun the world time and again, and they are favored by cultural and artistic professionals all over the world as inspirations to design. In light of this, how should we Chinese, born in a country that is one origin of oriental civilizations, inherit and innovate the “oriental culture” left behind by our ancestors? And how to find the inner core of the oriental legacy?

Views expressed on the following issues:

1. The adoption of oriental or occidental elements in design, definition, creativity and relevance of oriental aesthetics; the expression and spread of oriental aesthetics in our lifestyle, an issue everyone follows with interest;

2. How to preserve and pass on the tradition and make it relevant in a globalized world; the east and the west do not have to compete against each other; instead, they should have exchanges and interactions.

3. Earlier discussions give rise to another question, what is tradition? If there is a tradition of oriental aesthetics, then how much of that tradition remains, what is its meaning? Is tradition a liability or asset?


View sharing by Chen Weixin, chairperson of the fifth roundtable

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